Oct 28 2009 -- Nov 28 2009 South Coast Rivers: Gravel Mining Continues
|Curry County has been busily dealing with permit applications and permit renewals for instream gravel mining along its major salmon-bearing rivers. In most instances this year, the news is not good. However, there is vigorous opposition to the Curry County actions which threaten the valuable salmon habitat in these rivers. |
Log pond on mill site. July, 2000 photo.
The Rogue River is the most endangered by inappropriate gravel mining in its upper estuary. In October 2009, the Curry County Board of Commissioners decreed that the areas where Tidewater wants to mine are zoned ER 2, which is a "management" designation in the estuary zone, and allows instream gravel mining with a conditional use permit. This decision will allow Tidewater to potentially resume mining at their existing site at Wedderburn, on the north bank of the river, if they submit an application that is approved by state and federal agencies, as well as by Curry County. Oregon Shores, Curry Sportfishing Association and Kalmiopsis Audubon have appealed this decision to the Land Use Board of Appeals.
The Board of Commissioners also approved Tidewater's application to mine gravel from a 52-acre gravel bar in the Rogue on the south side of the river, at the old Champion mill site off Jerry's Flat Road. This site has never been commercially mined for gravel. There was a great deal of opposition to Tidewater's application, as the site is just downstream from the Gold Beach water intake. Furthermore, the old mill site is on DEQ's Contaminated Site Index because of activities dating from the old mill. The entire gravel bar, including the area Tidewater wants to mine, is hydrologically linked. Mining has the potential to leach buried chemicals into the river, as well as release much more sediment that salmon must navigate.
The upper estuary of the Rogue is already in poor shape. It is so plugged with sediment that it is possible to walk across it at low tide without getting one's knees wet! A major contributor to this shallowing is Tidewater's illegal mining at the Wedderburn site without the required permit from the Dept. of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), in 2007. In response, DOGAMI halted mining at the site and increased Tidewater's reclamation bond to $77,000. The violation is still outstanding. However, the damage was already done. The river "captured" the mining pit, and sediment poured into the estuary.
According to the January 2009 report by ECO Northwest The Economic Value of Rogue River Salmon, Rogue River salmon are valued at $1.4 million per year to the commercial fishing industry, and $16 million per year to the sport fishing industry. That does not include the additional money associated with fishing, from purchase of food to hotels, housing, guides and outfitters, etc. The choice is clear: if the Rogue's salmon are important, then we have to curb irresponsible mining such as Tidewater is seeking. There are other, upland places to mine gravel without touching the river. But there is no other home for the Rogue River's salmon.
Instream gravel mining on Chetco River
The Chetco River is the first river studied for its "gravel budget," that is, to determine how much gravel the river deposits in a year, and how much it varies. The idea is that if we know how much gravel the river accumulates, then it will be easier to make policy decisions about instream gravel mining. Unfortunately, the Chetco River Study, completed by the U.S. Geological Survey in summer of 2009, is quite general, and does not provide a level of detail sufficient to help decision-makers. Meantime, decisions about gravel permits continue to be made for the Chetco, including another permit renewal currently being requested by Tidewater for the Chetco.
The underlying hope of the gravel industry is that with sufficient gravel budget information, the agencies can create a Regional General Permit, which will streamline the rather nightmarish, multi-agency permit process currently necessary to gain permission for instream gravel mining. The problem with an RGP — which will be first proposed for the Chetco — is that it does not allow specific attention to individual areas of the river where mining is a problem. This is exacerbated on the Chetco where the river study is already too general to help with policy decisions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hopes to have a draft RGP for the Chetco available for public review in January of 2010. Oregon Shores, local residents and fishermen will be watching the process keenly.
Prime salmon habitat on lower Elk River. 7/21/09 photo.
Tidewater Contractors hoped to mine gravel on the Elk River as well as the Rogue and Chetco. They proposed mining under an old permit granted to the Wagner family. The Board of Commissioners heard an appeal of the matter, and decided in Summer 2009 that the Wagner permit was too old: it dated from 1989, and the criteria under which mining could be approved have changed too drastically in the intervening twenty years. The Commissioners invalidated the old permit. If Tidewater wishes to mine gravel in the Elk, they will have to file a new application with Curry County, and meet all the current criteria. In addition, Tidewater would have to meet the strict scrutiny of the federal National Marine Fisheries Service. NMFS has stated that the Elk has the best run of federally threatened SONC coho; the Chetco only has a "depressed and dwindling" population. The Elk therefore comes under high scrutiny for something as dangerous as instream gravel mining in salmon habitat.
For more information:
5/11/2009, Oregon Shores' testimony before Curry Board
2/12/2009, Background on the Wagner/Tidewater sites
12/9/2008, DOGAMI letter to ACOE regarding Regional General Permit concept for gravel mining
Articles on topic 'Curry: Gravel Mining':
Sep 5 2011 Oregon Shores Seeks Again to Protect Rogue from Mining
May 5 2011 Efforts to Block Tidewater’s Gravel Mining Succeed
Feb 10 2011 Curry Planning Commission Turns Down Gravel Mining
Jul 28 2010 Efforts to Protect the Lower Rogue From Gravel Mining Continue
Apr 5 2010 Gravel Mining Continues to Threaten Chetco River, Rogue Estuary
Feb 15 2010 LUBA: Tidewater May Apply for Wedderburn In-stream Mining
Oct 28 2009 South Coast Rivers: Gravel Mining Continues
Jul 23 2009 Results of Hearing on Gravel Mining on Elk
Jul 21 2009 Curry County Hearing July 21 on Gravel Mining in Elk River
Jun 6 2009 Two More Victories on Gravel Mining on the Rogue
May 28 2009 Third Hearing Scheduled on Gravel Mining near Old Mill Site
Apr 23 2009 Tidewater Requests "Interpretation" of Estuary Boundaries
Apr 1 2009 ACOE Solicits Comments on Tidewater Application on Elk River
Sep 24 2008 Two Victories on Gravel Mining on the Rogue
Sep 23 2008 New Guide to Permitting for Instream Gravel Mining
New Guide to Permitting for Instream Gravel Mining
Aug 7 2008 Gravel Mining on the Rogue
Nov 1 2007 Chetco River Gravel Mining
Nov 1 2007 Rogue River Gravel Mining